How to manage Small Hive Beetles

There’s nothing more obnoxious than to see those little black beetles cruising through your beehives, narrowly escaping the grasp of a dozen honey bees and the smash of your fingers.

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underside view of the honeycomb in a warre hive body
Underside view of my Warré hive. I have NEVER seen a single beetle, much less a larva, in this hive. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Today I’m going to go over the 3 ways to control small hive beetle in your apiary. And between the three, there is one that works best according to sciency nerd-like information based on my own surmising.

You will notice very few if any pictures of small hive beetles in this post. We all know what they look like. But I don’t have any pictures because I RARELY see hive beetles in my apiaries. Read more to find out how to manage them.

The 3 methods of SHB control

Method 1- Smashing them

One of the most satisfying feelings is when you smash a hive beetle or two. It’s a feeling of contributing to the health of your hive.

Now I’m all for nature and letting things live and not die. But, as far as I’m concerned, once a small hive beetle enters the hive it is doomed. Doomed to death.

However, despite the satisfaction of smashing those pesky varments, it’s really quite ineffective in the long run. You simply cannot go through each and every hive smashing beetles as a means of control.

Your time is a valuable asset, so what else is there?

Method 2- Beetle traps

This is the method I was taught in my 15 years as a beekeeping apprentice.

It involves two components: a trap commonly sold and known as a ‘Beetle Barn,’ and the bait. It is placed on the bottom board or directly under the hive cover.

The bait is where I personally say ‘no thank you’ to beetle traps. The reason for this is because it uses something extremely deadly to honey bees. And if it gets wet then it leaks out of the ‘barn’ and the bees come into contact with it and die.

small hive beetle larvae
When it looks like this in the hive, it’s almost too late! Photo by Jonathan Hargus

Many commercial beekeepers use ‘Beetle barns’ baited with cockroach bait; an incredibly deadly substance to beetles and honey bees alike.

However, there is another trap that rests between hive frames. I have never used this style. My understanding is that mineral oil is used as the bait which is a much better alternative to the first one I mentioned.

Both traps have the same goal in mind however: to kill adult small hive beetles. This is a time-consuming and potentially dangerous method to use.

If you have tried it and it works for you then great. But I’m going to recommend against it because there is a better way.

top bar hive
This is my first Top Bar Hive. I have never seen a single beetle in it either! Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Method 3- Kill them in the larval stage

To effectively control small hive beetle populations within your apiary, you must first understand o’ wee bit about the lifecycle of this particular menace.

SHB Lifecycle

The short version is this: an adult beetle lays eggs somewhere in the bee hive. Usually in the cells somewhere.

When the eggs hatch they become larvae. They eat what’s in the hive and crap everywhere. A strong colony will keep the larvae from getting out of control.

A weak colony will not be able to maintain beetle control and the combs eventually become slimy with the presence of beetle larvae.

Here’s the catch though- the larvae must crawl their way out of the hive in order to pupate in the soil below the hive entrance. A larva that pupates in the soil becomes an adult hive beetle.

small hive beetle larvae
I have seen small hive beetle larvae literally ‘slime’ a hive to death. It’s very uncool. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

Once an adult, the newly formed beetle takes flight from the soil and into the bee hive to start the process all over again.

Before I tell you how to cleverly give hive beetles a kick in the pants, I want to add an important note.

Important Note:

Small hive beetle thrives most in moist and humid conditions. Keep this in mind when deciding where to locate your beehives.

florida apiary
This is one of our Florida apiary locations. As you can see it’s on a lake. Florida is an incredibly humid State and hive beetle are constantly a problem here. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©
Winning the battle

Okay, now the fun part. Fighting back with successfullness! The key to controlling small hive beetle populations in your apiary is to attack when they’re at their most vulnerable point: the larval stage in the soil during pupation.

It is ineffective to fight against hive beetle once they are full-grown adults. They’re simply too proliferous and menacing. We could probably even hear them growl if we listen closley enough.

Plan of attack

Diatomaceous earth. I call it DE. It cuts insect’s exoskeleton like glass and dehydrates them to death.

There are a couple of ways to administer this method:

First way

make sure you buy the non-food grade diatomaceous earth. Using a facemask, generously sift the DE onto the ground directly in front of your beehives. You don’t want to breathe the dust. Always take safety precautions.

Second way

using landscaping timbers, surround your beehives with them and then fill in the area with small gravel or pebbles to keep the grass from growing. Then spread the DE on this area.

hive stands ready in a new apiary
As you can see here, I have just leveled two hive stands in preparation for a new apiary. Ideally at this point, I would sift DE into the ground on the hive entrance side of the hive stands to help against beetle larva, especially since this apiary is located in damp woodland. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The second method will be the most useful if you can create a way that the beetle larvae cannot make their way down into the soil to pupate. Reapply the DE perhaps once a month or so.

That’s it! Maintain the moisture by locating your hives in warm, ventilated areas and use DE to kill beetle larvae, when they’re at their most vulnerable stage.

Practice what we’ve gone over today and rest assured that you’re fighting small hive beetle the best way possible. But don’t worry, you can still smash a hive beetle every once in a while.

And keep this in mind- you will never completely erradicate hive beetles, but you can control/maintain their populations in low enough numbers that your bees will be able to take care of the rest.

Have you seen my new children’s picture book? Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee! is now available on Amazon.com!! Get your copy today 🙂

Until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

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